Call for FM to prevent 'sleep walking' into another year of strikes

Unions including Unison, Unite and GMB have signed a joint letter calling for the First Minister to intervene on the pay dispute with local council workers.

Unions call for Humza Yousaf to prevent ‘sleep walking’ into another year of strikes PA Media

First Minister Humza Yousaf has been urged to intervene in an ongoing pay dispute with local council workers.

The call comes from multiple unions after workers including home carers, school cleaners and bin collectors voted to reject a pay offer of around 5.5% from COSLA, the governing body of local authorities.

Around 20,000 members of GMB Union across Scotland voted overwhelmingly by 94% to reject the offer last month, with 87% Unison members also voting to reject.

Unite announced on Wednesday that a further 5,000 workers have rejected the COSLA pay offer and warned of “trouble ahead” for both the Scottish Government and COSLA if action is not taken.

The unions have written to the First Minister calling for intervention to prevent the country “sleep walking into a second year of industrial action.”.

The joint letter claims only serious engagement with workers’ concerns will win their support and end the threat of industrial action.

GMB Scotland’s ballot results were announced days after the Office for National Statistics revealed inflation in the UK is running at 10.1% while food prices are climbing by 19%.

The union’s senior organiser for public services, Keir Greenaway, said the proposed deal is the lowest rise of any offered to local government in the UK.

He said: “This offer dramatically short-changes council workers in Scotland compared to colleagues in England and Wales at a time when staff are under unprecedented financial pressure.

“It was no surprise it was so overwhelmingly rejected and, since COSLA has failed to find an acceptable way forward, the Scottish Government must intervene to build a new, fairer offer.

“If they cannot or will not then this dispute can only escalate.”

Meanwhile, Unison criticised COSLA leaders after a motion calling for the organisation to ask the Scottish Government for additional funding was voted down.

UNISON Scotland’s head of local government Johanna Baxter said: “That COSLA leaders have, inexplicably, chosen not to approach the Scottish Government for additional funding to improve the pay offer for council workers will astonish our members. This is despite unions asking them time and again to do so.

“At the same time we are being told that the continued financial constraints facing local authorities mean that any additional money directed towards pay will have a direct impact on staff numbers and the ability to maintain essential services.

“Whilst COSLA sit on their hands they, and the Scottish Government, are sleep walking towards a second year of industrial action.

“Earlier this year former deputy first minister, John Swinney said he was open to discussion with COSLA and unions and recognised the Scottish government has a role to play. No-one wants to see rubbish piling up on the streets again and schools threatening to close.”

Unison Scotland’s local government chair, Mark Ferguson added: “It is disappointing that the COSLA seem more willing to face a dispute with their own workforce than ask the Scottish government for the funding they say they need.

“Our members continue to face the pressure of an unprecedented cost of living crises and are simply seeking a decent pay rise. They don’t want to have to strike but will if that is they only way they can get COSLA and the Scottish government to take notice of them.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The Scottish Government and COSLA need to improve upon the current pay offer or there will be trouble ahead. A 5% pay offer when the broader cost of living index is now above 13% is a punishing real terms pay cut . That’s unacceptable.

“Our members are determined to secure fair pay and they have their union’s full support in this fight for better jobs, pay and conditions in local government.”

Graham McNab, Unite industrial officer added: “Around 5,000 Unite members working in local government have emphatically rejected the current pay offer in a consultative ballot. It’s crystal clear that our members are prepared to fight for a better deal if this can’t be secured through negotiation.

“We have been warning the Scottish Government and COSLA since January that a pay offer well below inflation for 2023 just won’t cut it. Unite is already taking preparatory steps to ballot our membership in key areas of local government and the politicians, once again, can’t say they have not been warned.”

In response to the union calls, councillor Katie Hagmann, COSLA resources spokesperson said: “The offer to our Trade Union colleagues is a strong offer which clearly illustrates the value Councils place on their workforce.

“Not only is it a strong offer, it is an offer that aligns with what has been agreed for other sectors. Parity as well as affordability over the longer term must be key considerations for Local Government – that is why Leaders agreed to maintain their current position, highlighting that councils also face additional funding pressures out with pay, for example the escalating costs of running and maintaining sport and culture facilities, and providing crisis grants to people in need.

“The current offer also recognises the cost-of-living pressures on our workforce and critically, it seeks to protect vital jobs and services. Even the current offer will make this really challenging for some councils.

“Again, I would reiterate that the offer value in year is 5.5%, the average uplift on salaries going into the next financial year is 7%. Importantly, those on the Scottish Local Government Living Wage would get 9.12% and those at higher grades, where Councils are experiencing severe recruitment challenges, would see 6.05%.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Local government pay negotiations are a matter for local authorities as employers and unions – the Scottish Government has no formal role.

“Despite UK Government cuts, the Scottish Government announced at stage three of the Budget Bill that we would provide councils with a further £100m specifically to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers in 2023-24.”

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